Multi-million dollar civic campaigns could end in 2018 race

NDP seeks ban on union and corporate donations at civic level

12th and Cambie

Had a conversation last week with two provincial politicians about implementing a ban on union and corporate donations to civic political parties such as Vision Vancouver and the NPA.

Exciting stuff, right?

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Well, kinda, if you’re into that sort of thing.

You’ve probably heard such a ban is a hot topic at the provincial level, and got even hotter last week when the B.C. Liberals announced that stopping the flow of big money into provincial campaigns is actually a good idea; the party even introduced legislation Monday to make it happen, although it was immediately defeated by the NDP and Greens, despite placing the policy at the top of their to-do lists during the campaign.

But don't take that dumping of the Liberals' bill as a sign that the NDP and Greens have switched course. It's a weird week, folks. A confidence vote is likely to come Thursday and the NDP and Greens promise to deal with a ban on union and corporate donations once their power-sharing government is in place.

Anyway, back to civic politics....

What I didn’t hear during the campaign was whether all three parties were prepared to apply the ban to civic elections. So that’s why I spoke to Sam Sullivan, the former mayor and Liberal MLA for Vancouver-False Creek, and Selina Robinson, the NDP MLA for Coquitlam-Maillardville and local government critic in the last term for her party.

I also received a reply from the Greens on this.

I’ll begin with Sullivan.

“This is something I’d like to see,” said Sullivan, whose new (short-lived?) post as minister of community, sport and cultural development includes being responsible for local government. “I can’t say that will be in the throne speech (my note: it was), but it’s certainly something that I personally would like to see. We have to go step by step, but I think that would be a very positive direction.”

Sullivan’s position isn’t all that surprising since his former civic party, the NPA, has joined with COPE and Vision Vancouver in the past to pressure the provincial government to make the necessary legislative changes to take the big money out of civic campaigns.

As regular readers will know, I’ve written about this topic for more than a decade. And as the years have passed with no limits on spending or expenses, parties have collected enough cash to repeatedly run multi-million dollar campaigns.

The perception is the city’s two main parties, the NPA and Vision Vancouver, and their politicians are being bought by organizations and people with deep pockets – whether they be unions or developers.

The politicians, of course, deny such nonsense, as I’ve been told countless times from members of council (past and present). Some of those same politicians took free tickets to a Bruce Springsteen concert, Canucks games, Cirque du Soleil performances and enjoyed a dinner cruise on a developer’s yacht, all courtesy of financial backers.

But nothing to see here, folks.

Apparently, expense limits are supposed to be in place for the 2018 civic election. Exactly how much won’t be known until May 2018, at which time the provincial government of the day could have already banned union and corporate donations.

Anyway, before I get to Robinson, some history: Back in 2013, I asked then-NDP leader Adrian Dix whether his party was prepared to ban union and corporate donations at the civic level.

“The principles at the provincial level should be good to apply to the municipal level,” Dix told me. “But you want to work with municipal governments, as well, to see that that happens.”

I’m not sure what the NDP’s current leader, John Horgan, thinks about this. I made a request three weeks ago to speak to him, but he hasn’t returned my call. The Greens’ press secretary, Jillian Oliver, told me in an email the party wants to see a ban at the civic level.

So to Robinson we go. The former Coquitlam city councillor knows something about the topic having pushed in the previous term for a ban on union and corporate donations at the civic level.

Now that it is almost certain the NDP will form government, with support from the Greens, here’s a question: Will that ban be introduced and approved in the legislature in time for next year’s civic elections?

“It will—likely,” Robinson said. “We have consistently been looking at doing that.”

Which is good news for democracy and some of those independent candidates who have not had the cash to compete with the party machines of Vision Vancouver and the NPA.

It’s also good news for politicians tired of answering questions about whether their work and votes at city hall are directly connected to their deep-pocketed donors.

I look forward to the next civic election and the rules that govern it, although political scuttlebutt suggests I could be covering another provincial election before that. Wacky times, people.


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